Anyone who has sampled the liquor Pernod has a good idea that absinthe got its reputation from its remarkably high alcohol content rather than any psychedelic in the oil of wormwood extract that distinguishes Pernod from absinthe. This article from Science Daily explains:
A high alcohol content, rather than
thujone, the compound widely believed
responsible for absinthe's effects.
Although consumed diluted with water,
absinthe contained about 70 percent
alcohol, giving it a 140-proof wallop.
Most gin, vodka, and whiskey are 80 --
100-proof and contain 40-50 percent
alcohol or ethanol.
Pernod - which is perfectly legal is, in fact, simply absinthe without the wormwood and, apparently, a lower alcohol content:
Pernod is actually a successor of
absinthe, the potent liquor that
contained a toxic oil from wormwood in
quantities that were thought to cause
brain damage — and which was outlawed
in 1915 in France. One of absinthe's
leading manufacturers, Henri Pernod,
then focused its efforts on the
This site offers this information on the Pernod - absinthe connection:
• The original Pernod consisted of
65-75% alcohol and the notorious
hallucinogen, absinthe “Arthemisia
Absinthium,” which gave Pernod a
distinct reputation around the world.
• After the imposition of a French ban
on wormwood due to its hallucinogenic
effects in 1915, the absinthe formula
was modified, resulting in Pernod as
we know it today – a 40% alcohol (80
proof) anise-flavored spirit. Its
distinctive flavor is created through
a combination of star anise and
several aromatic herbs and plants.
This site allows a comparison with conventional liquors:
Liqueur 15–55% Light Liquors 20%
Liquor/Spirits (general) 40% Cask
Strength Whisky/Rum 60% Absinthe
55–89.5% Neutral Grain Spirit 95%
Rectified Spirit 96% Absolute Alcohol
At the upper limit of 89.5% a person would essentially be drinking "torpedo juice", which could certainly explain the reputation that absinthe earned.